Sunday, September 20, 2009

Briarwood Community Association Meeting - September 17th - Bill Thompson Visits...

Briarwood Community Association members with Comptroller and Mayoral candidate Bill Thompson

President’s Report: Our Latest Quarrel With the Department of Buildings

The BCA, together with civic organizations throughout the City have long identified the Department of Buildings (DOB)to be dysfunctional (perhaps by their choice). But more, one could not be remiss in stating that the Bloomberg administration lies unashamedly in the same bed with the city’s rapacious developers and contractors. The long list of actions, inactions and procedures by the (DOB provides inarguable evidence of an administration policy to encourage and make it easier for developers to circumvent and violate existing code in order to maximize their benefit at the expense of our stable communities. How well we have seen this at work in Briarwood.

Starting Monday, July 13th, the DOB initiated a new procedure and began to post plans for pending work permits on its website so that the public can identify problems with planned projects and file complaints in a timely fashion. Sounds good? Read on.

Look at how the rule works. It confers on the public a 45-day statute of limitations after which the Buildings Department will issue a work permit and leave the developer home free. This latest City Hall scam is to remove from the public its right to challenge at any time, and to demand an official examination, inspection and resolution of building construction by the Buildings Department with respect to established zoning regulations and Building Code requirements. Members of the public, few with any architectural or planning expertise, now face a new requirement to hunt around the DOB’s website to identify pending projects and file a complaint. All this must be done within only 45 days. And if DOB’s finding fails to adequately address a complaint, recourse then involves an appeals process that culminates with the City's Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA). Appeals to the BSA likely require members of the public and civic associations to incur legal expense they do not face under the prior rules.

The likelihood of successful complaints surviving DOB's appeals process is just about nil. Just ask any citizen who has spent time with the DOB or the Board of Standards and Appeals.

The new procedures make filing a challenge more onerous than the current 311 complaint procedure and removes any possibility of filing an anonymous challenge. These outrageous procedures represent nothing more than a continuation of the imperiousness and arrogance that this administration shows with regard to the ability of the public to influence development in our neighborhoods.

This new process flies in the face of reality and basically drafts the public to act as more than eyes and ears to report possible violations and illegal conditions. The rules unrealistically and most inappropriately require the general public to essentially act as building plan examiners and building code inspectors. In truth, members of the public rarely become aware of projects until they see shovels in the ground and construction underway. This occurs long after DOB issues its permit approvals and the new 45-day opportunity to complain has elapsed. The current process allowing architects and engineers to self-certify their own projects is more-than-ever an open invitation for inappropriate development to rise beneath the public’s radar.

Leaders of the more than 110 civic organizations that make up the Queens Civic Congress agree they will not be able to catch plans from property owners before DOB certifies projects and contractors begin their work. These civic leaders express concern at how they and their communities will cope with DOB’s notorious practice of allowing applicants to self-certify plans for projects as legal and conforming with all city regulations.

The rule, left standing, immunizes corrupt practices and makes impossibly difficult the public’s right to address illegal conduct whenever and wherever found. It violates every citizen’s fundamental right, the right of concerned community members and Community Boards, to challenge illegal practices at any time.

The process for posting plans on line continues to omit zoning calculations and analyses from the plans on DOB’s website. This short-circuits any effective use of the new complaint process. Absent zoning analysis, the public remains unable to determine if, in fact, a project conforms with zoning or building regulations and if an objection is warranted.

Perhaps City Hall wanted this all along. Maybe they seek to disguise this over-development tool as they continue to scheme how to remake sound and stable communities. They thwart and play cute with zonings and text changes our civic organizations advocate, and allow many essential landmarking opportunities to fall prey to inappropriate and unnecessary development.

In an opening response, we participated along with civic leaders, members of the Queens Civic Congress in a protest rally in front of the DOB headquarters on July 10th. Together we intend to do all that is possible to have the agency withdraw this latest act of contempt for Joe Citizen.

Seymour Schwartz